December 6, 2023

By Stuart Mitchner

I love this time of day, 1:30 to 3 a.m., kitchen to myself, cleaning up to music from the Bose Wave. I turn on WWFM in time to hear the first two movements of Haydn’s string quartet No. 23 in F minor, which creates a nice slow weaving motion that goes surprisingly well with sweeping the floor.

According to his biographer Albert Christoph Dies, Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) once claimed that musical ideas were pursuing him: “If it’s an allegro that pursues me, my pulse keeps beating faster, I can get no sleep. If it’s an adagio, then I notice my pulse beating slowly. My imagination plays on me as if I were a clavier…. I am really just a living clavier.”

Basie the Piano

Pondering the idea of a composer or a player becoming the embodiment of their instrument, my thoughts turn first to Red Bank’s favorite son Count Basie. If anyone this side of Glenn Gould or Duke Ellington qualified as “a living piano” it was Basie playing one or two incandescent notes between the heaves of big band storm. Listening to the 1975 RCA session with Basie and tenor man Zoot Sims while sweeping the tile dance floor in my night club kitchen at 3 a.m., the number I keep coming back to is a medium slow blues Basie calls “Captain Bligh.” After much looking online I’ve given up trying to find out why he named a blues after the deposed commander of HMS Bounty. In my search of the Net, however, what I found was a smile: of course, Basie’s big band recorded two albums of Beatles songs in the 1960s, one of them with liner notes by Ringo Starr. more

By Nancy Plum

The Princeton University Orchestra and Glee Club joined forces this past weekend at Richardson Auditorium to present an unusual gem of a concerto from one of the most creative periods of French musical history. Orchestra conductor Michael Pratt and Glee Club director Gabriel Crouch brought together the two ensembles to perform a concerto for two pianos, multiple saxophones, orchestra and chorus by 20th-century composer Germaine Tailleferre, whose compositional output has remained largely unexplored until recent decades. Combined with the music of Brahms and Mozart, the Tailleferre work created a solid anchor for the Orchestra’s annual tribute to former University faculty member and composer Peter Westergaard.

The University Orchestra opened Friday night’s concert (the performance was repeated Saturday evening) with one of the University music department’s talented students leading the ensemble. Senior Aster Zhang has performed extensively as a cellist both nationally and worldwide and is also trained as a conductor. For her portion of the program, Zhang led the Orchestra in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Overture” to The Magic Flute. Conducting without a baton, Zhang was poised and professional from the outset, leading a stately opening and smooth transition to the quick-moving passages. The string sound was consistently light, and musical punctuation clear. Taking her time in slower sections, Zhang showed Mozart’s drama well, aided by elegant wind solos. more

November 15, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Symphony Orchestra returned choral music to its repertory this past weekend with a performance of a newly-reimagined edition of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s popular Requiem. Since Mozart’s untimely death in 1791 left the work incomplete, scholars have attempted to second-guess the composer and provide an alternative completion adhering to Mozart’s intent and historical character. Conductor Rossen Milanov and Princeton Symphony Orchestra brought this rendition of Mozart’s immortal masterpiece to Richardson Auditorium this past weekend, with composer Gregory Spears’ addition of three new movements to the mass for the dead. Joining the Orchestra for Saturday night’s performance (the concert was repeated Sunday afternoon) were four vocal soloists and Westminster Symphonic Choir.

Princeton Symphony Orchestra paired the Requiem with a 21st-century work inspired by a string quartet of Mozart contemporary Franz Joseph Haydn. Caroline Shaw’s 2011 Entr’acte for string orchestra incorporated contemporary musical effects into a classically-structured piece, including passages reminiscent of J.S. Bach. Milanov led the Orchestra in a feathery opening to Shaw’s one-movement work, allowing the music to quickly become powerful while maintaining a lean quality. Concertmaster Basia Danilow and principal cellist Alistair MacRae played an intense duet against relentless pizzicati of the other players, and MacRae’s graceful lute-like playing delicately brought Shaw’s unique and appealing work to a close.  more

November 8, 2023

By Nancy Plum

When choruses choose to perform the oratorios of George Frideric Handel, it is usually the popular Messiah which draws in audiences. However, Handel composed close to 30 oratorios, essentially perfecting the genre when interest in Italian opera waned in 18th-century England. Sung in English, oratorios had great audience appeal, retaining the solo vocal fireworks popular in opera but adding complex choral numbers which served a narrative function and provided commentary on the action.

Handel looked to biblical sources for subject matter to create his familiar oratorios, with works based on the stories of Saul, Samson, and Judas Maccabeus. Lesser known is the 1748 Solomon, which depicts the life of the monarch of ancient Israel in 63 arias, recitatives, and choruses. Handel’s choral/orchestral works are tailor-made for the more than 100-member Princeton Pro Musica, which brought a production of Solomon to Richardson Auditorium this past Sunday afternoon. Led by Pro Musica Artistic Director Ryan J. Brandau and joined by the period orchestra New York Baroque Incorporated and five vocal soloists, Pro Musica presented a spirited performance of Handel’s animated work. more

November 1, 2023

By Nancy Plum

McCarter Theatre is well into a season of diverse presentations, including the well-respected Classical Music Series. Last week, two renowned specialist Baroque performing ensembles came to Princeton for an evening of Johann Sebastian Bach. The London-based Monteverdi Choir and its companion English Baroque Soloists orchestra took the stage at Richardson Auditorium last Monday night to perform Bach’s 1749 Mass in B Minor, the 18th-century master’s extended setting of liturgical text.

Completed just a year before Bach’s death, Mass in B Minor was comprised of more than 25 choral movements, solos and duets, and was unique in its time for including the five major sections of the mass text, rather than the customary “Kyrie” and “Gloria.” Likely never performed in Bach’s lifetime, this piece has become one of the composer’s most enduring choral works. It is also one of the most difficult to perform, requiring a great deal of vocal stamina, and is an example of Bach’s innate tendency to write instrumentally, even for the voice.

There are as many ways to perform Bach’s music as there are ensembles worldwide. The evolution of choral societies in the 19th century led to massive choirs singing Bach with large orchestras and Romantic musical effects. The mid-20th century brought a renewed interest in presenting this music in the manner in which the music was originally conceived, an approach especially popular among European performers. The Monteverdi Choir, on the verge of its 60th anniversary, was founded to specialize in historically-inspired projects, with the Choir’s umbrella organization home to the younger but equally as influential English Baroque Soloists period instrumental orchestra. Dinis Sousa, associate conductor of the Monteverdi ensembles, led both the Choir and Baroque Soloists in their presentation of Bach’s towering work last Monday night. more

October 25, 2023

By Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony has long provided a showcase for up-and-coming artists destined for the forefront of the performing arena. The Symphony’s opening concert of its Princeton series this past Friday night at Richardson Auditorium brought together a conductor and solo cellist currently relatively unknown, but not for long. Conductor Joseph Young, music director of the Berkeley Symphony and director of ensembles at Peabody Conservatory, led the Symphony musicians in a program of Robert Schumann, Edward Elgar, and the Princeton University-connected Jessie Montgomery, and featured in the Schumann Cello Concerto was a definite future star in cellist Sterling Elliott, currently pursuing an artist diploma at The Juilliard School. The three pieces performed in Friday night’s concert highlighted unique instrumentation, rich orchestral colors, and a touch of virtuosity.

American composer Jessie Montgomery has had a partnership with Princeton University as a graduate fellow in music composition and has been making a name for herself creating musical works for ensembles nationwide. Among her most recent commissions was Snapshots, co-commissioned by several orchestras, including New Jersey Symphony. Friday night’s performance represented the East Coast premiere of Montgomery’s four-movement work, which Montgomery has described as a set of vignettes of her time studying film music. more

October 18, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Princeton University Concerts launched its 130th season this past week with a total immersion experience provided by a renowned professional chorus enjoying a visit to the University. The San Francisco-based vocal ensemble Chanticleer, led by music director and University graduate Tim Keeler, came to Princeton for a collaboration with the University Glee Club, currently under the direction of conductor Gabriel Crouch. Following days of joint rehearsals, a “Chamber Jam” and a “Live Music Meditation,” the two ensembles presented a concert this past Thursday night at Richardson Auditorium to close out their successful partnership. Typical of Chanticleer’s performances, the program featured repertoire ranging from the very traditional Max Reger and Heinrich Isaac to Hoagy Carmichael and Joni Mitchell, as well as a contemporary work by another Princeton University graduate.  more

October 11, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Fall always brings lively audiences to Richardson Auditorium for the University’s ensemble concerts, with anticipation of the new academic year and students cheering each other on. Princeton University Orchestra began its 2023-24 season this past weekend with two performances in Richardson featuring both the newest Orchestra roster of talented students and one student musician in particular who successfully tackled one of the most difficult works in the repertory.

Led by conductor Michael Pratt, Friday night’s performance (the concert was repeated Saturday night) continued the ensemble’s multi-year tradition of paying tribute to Ukraine with the playing of Elegie by Ukrainian composer and ethnomusicologist Mykola Lysenko. The Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff works which comprised the bulk of Friday’s program showcased the full capabilities of the Orchestra, and Pratt felt that for this season opener, the voice of Ukraine should also be heard. Lysenko originally composed Elegie as a solo piano piece, and the instrumental version played by the Orchestra was created by composer Vsevolod Sirenko and one of Princeton’s own — Class of 1983 graduate Hobart Earle, currently conductor of Ukraine’s Odesa Regional Philharmonic. This arrangement preserved Lysenko’s keyboard charm while reflecting the composer’s desire to retain Ukraine’s distinct identity within the country’s Russian historical influence. more

October 4, 2023

“LOW PAY? DON’T PAY!”: Performances are underway for “Low Pay? Don’t Pay!” Directed by Elena Milliken, the play runs through October 8 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Above, from left: Fed up with exorbitant grocery prices, Margherita (Gabe Robare) and Antonia (Sophia Vernon) commit a theft that they must conceal, not only from the police, but from Antonia’s husband Giovanni (Tate Keuler). (Photo by Rilla McKeegan)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

The farce Low Pay? Don’t Pay! follows two women who become fed up with increasingly exorbitant food prices. The play’s action begins when they take matters — specifically, armfuls of groceries — into their own hands, and leave a store without paying.

A Google search for “high grocery prices” yields an abundance of articles, from a variety of sources, published within the past few months. Given the painful topicality of the subject matter, casual audiences might think that the play is recent.  more

September 27, 2023

“BULRUSHER”: Performances are underway for “Bulrusher.” Written by Eisa Davis and directed by Associate Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson, the play runs through October 7 at McCarter’s Berlind Theater. Above: The mysterious Vera (Cyndii Johnson, left) bonds with the free-spirited Bulrusher (Jordan Tyson), an orphan who has the gift of clairvoyance. (Photo by T Charles Erickson)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

The title character of Bulrusher has a unique backstory. Orphaned as an infant, she was sent down the river in a basket — the allegory to the story of Moses is obvious — and arrived in the rustic town of Boonville, California.

Now a young woman in 1955, Bulrusher has the gift of clairvoyance. She can tell a character’s future by reading the water that they have touched. In an equally perceptible reference to the story of Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams, Bulrusher has used her talent on behalf of many townspeople.

Playwright and songwriter Eisa Davis begins the multilayered drama with a poetic monologue for the mystic, free-spirited title character. “I float in a basket toward the Pacific, hands blue as huckleberries,” she recites to the river. “What is a motherless daughter but pure will? The river hears me and turns to molasses…. I am born into a new language.” more

August 2, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Princeton University Summer Chamber Concerts closed its 56th season last week with a performance by Dalí Quartet, an ensemble of four string players committed to high-quality performance of classical and romantic repertoire, as well as a particular focus on works of Latin America. Violinists Ari Isaacman-Beck and Carlos Rubio, violist Adriana Linares, and cellist Jesús Morales came to Princeton’s Nassau Presbyterian Church last Wednesday night to present a concert of chamber music by Franz Schubert, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and renowned 20th-century Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. Founded in 2004 and currently based in Philadelphia, Dalí Quartet showed in this concert the well-blended sound and combined technical facility these musicians have achieved over the past 10 years. more

July 26, 2023

By Nancy Plum

There is a tremendous amount of music for string trios and quartets, but repertoire for two wind instruments and piano is much more limited. The ensemble Poulenc Trio, currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, has been redefining the wind trio genre through performance and commissioning of works for oboe, bassoon, and piano. Oboist Alexander Vvedenskiy, bassoonist Bryan Young and pianist Irina Kaplan Lande came to Princeton last week to present a program of French music from the 19th through the 21st centuries. Whether a standard from a master or a newly-commissioned piece inspired by the French chamber tradition, the concert performed on Wednesday night’s concert at Nassau Presbyterian Church made for a refreshing summer evening. more

July 5, 2023

By Nancy Plum

A new music festival has set down roots in Princeton this summer. The John Perry Academy of Music, previously based in Los Angeles, has relocated to this area and launched its summer activities this past weekend. Bracketing 12 days of master classes, lectures, and private lessons for musicians are two piano recitals, the first of which took place this past Sunday evening. Russian pianist Mikhail Voskresensky, who left his homeland in 2022 in protest of the invasion of Ukraine, opened the festival with a concert of 18th- and 19th-century piano music at Mayo Hall on the campus of The College of New Jersey.

Voskresensky’s concert Sunday evening began with two musical gumdrops from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Like others of Mozart’s works, Fantasy in d minor for piano was unfinished at the time of his death. In a type of musical fan fiction, Mozart’s widow turned to colleagues and friends to finish a number of these pieces. The last 10 measures of the Fantasy were thought to be written by German composer and organist August Müller, and his added fugal coda fit well with Mozart’s baroque intents in this short piece. Voskresensky paired this work with Mozart’s Fantasy in c minor, also left unfinished at the time of the composer’s death. The 28-bar original fragment was completed by composer and priest Abbé Maximilian Stadler, who titled the piece a fantasia and maintained the same baroque flavor that Mozart had begun. more

June 28, 2023

By Nancy Plum

The story of San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk is one of the most tragic in American politics. Known as “The Mayor of Castro Street,” Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California and was assassinated (along with the city’s mayor) in November 1978 by Dan White, a former supervisor who had been refused reinstatement to office. The aftermath of the untimely deaths of these individuals changed the face of San Francisco politics, and White’s subsequent suicide created a trinity of loss of both life and potential. more

June 21, 2023

By Nancy Plum

Princeton Festival has arrived in the community, with recitals, lectures, and full concerts in a range of venues throughout town. Under the umbrella of Princeton Symphony Orchestra, the Festival has always included full operas in the performance schedule, and this past Friday night saw the opening of the first of the Festival’s two mainstage productions. Under a tented pavilion at Morven Museum & Garden, the Festival presented Gioachino Rossini’s farcical The Barber of Seville, recalling to the stage two singers who excelled last season and introducing new outstanding voices to Princet+on audiences.

Rossini’s 1816 Barber of Seville was part of an operatic tradition of composing for not much more than a handful of principal performers, with strong contrasting characters and complex and intricate ensemble numbers. Each of the singers in Princeton Festival’s production needed to be able to carry the stage and hold their own in duets and trios which could fall apart with one slip-up. Led by Princeton Symphony Orchestra Music Director Rossen Milanov and presented in Italian with English titles, this Barber of Seville was musically precise and clearly focused on physical comedy as well as top-notch singing. more

June 14, 2023

By Nancy Plum

The Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra (GPYO) is justifiably proud of its 63-year history, and especially in rebounding from the instability of the past three years. In the midst of the pandemic, GPYO hired a new music director, who wasted no time in bringing the ensembles within GPYO back to full strength. The four ensembles within the Youth Orchestra organization presented their final concerts of the season this past Sunday afternoon and evening in Richardson Auditorium, solidly demonstrating their mission of providing young musicians with challenging musical experience while cultivating a lifelong love of the arts.

Sunday night’s concert at Richardson featured the Concert and Symphonic Orchestras, both conducted by Jessica Morel, in works which were both operatic and programmatic (the Chamber Winds and Preparatory String Ensembles performed in the afternoon). With more than 80 players, the Concert Orchestra presented two opera overtures and a contemporary work which showed how far the Orchestra had come in a season. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio Overture, Op. 72 is full of contrasts between rich orchestral passages and solo instrumental playing. The Concert Orchestra has an army of strings and fewer wind and brass players, but the solo instrumentalists were well up to the challenges of the music, especially horn player Kamila Ouadah. Conductor Morel kept the tempos steady; another orchestra might have played this work faster, but the tempos selected worked for this ensemble.  more

June 7, 2023

By Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) introduced a new violin star to Princeton audiences this past weekend in a performance also including a world premiere. Led by Music Director Xian Zhang, the Orchestra presented a concert in Richardson Auditorium Friday night featuring music commissioned for the Orchestra’s Centennial celebration, well as a beloved violin concerto performed by an up-and-coming superstar.

As part of its Centennial Anniversary, NJSO commissioned an orchestral piece from Chinese-American composer Chen Yi. Yi’s compositions are rooted in her upbringing during China’s Cultural Revolution, and she describes her works as a fusion of Chinese lore and Western form and techniques. The one-movement Landscape Impression, commissioned by NJSO and premiered in this past weekend’s concert, was inspired by two poems by the 11th-century writer Su Dong-Po.  more

May 31, 2023

“CABARET”: Theatre Intime, CJL Play, and Princeton University Players have staged “Cabaret.” Directed by Andrew Duke ’25, the musical was presented May 25-28 at the Hamilton Murray Theater. Above: performers at the Kit Kat Klub, headlined by Sally Bowles (Juliette Carbonnier, third from left in the front row) exemplify the hedonistic decadence of pre-Nazi Berlin. (Photo by Jazmin Morales)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

Set in Berlin at the time of the Nazis’ rise to power, Cabaret largely takes place at the decadent Kit Kat Klub. The musical follows an American author’s odyssey in Berlin as he watches political events unfold, as well as his complicated relationship with the British headlining performer of the nightclub.

Cabaret (1966) has a book by Joe Masteroff. It is adapted from John Van Druten’s play I Am a Camera (1951), which in turn is based on Goodbye to Berlin (1939), a semi-autobiographical novel for which author Christopher Isherwood drew on his experiences in the Weimar Republic, as well as his relationship with cabaret singer Jean Ross.  more

May 17, 2023

By Nancy Plum

One does not often hear concertos for viola — an instrument often hidden within the orchestra. However, Hector Berlioz’s Harold in Italy is much more than a concerto; its form is that of a programmatic symphony, with each of the four movements describing scenes of the southern region of Italy. Princeton Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Rossen Milanov, brought Berlioz’s symphonic work to Richardson Auditorium this past weekend to close the 2022-23 orchestral season. Joining the Orchestra for this season finale was guest violist Roberto Díaz, a veteran performer and noted educator.

Princeton Symphony Orchestra preceded the Berlioz work with two pieces just as descriptive. Julia Perry was one of a cadre of internationally-known 20th-century American composers whose works have been underperformed but are now receiving new attention. Perry’s Study for Orchestra was premiered in 1952 under the name Short Piece for Orchestra and has become popular for its appeal and innovative approach to orchestration. In Sunday afternoon’s performance, Princeton Symphony Orchestra presented this short and concise work emphasizing its jazz style, which was consistent with American music of the time. A number of instrumental soloists were showcased, including flutist Anthony Trionfo and concertmaster Claire Bourg. Milanov kept the orchestral sound lean, aided by very clean trumpets.

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“BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY”: Performances are underway for “Blues for an Alabama Sky.” Written by Pearl Cleage, and directed by Associate Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson, the play runs through May 28 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. Above, from left, close friends Sam (Stephen Conrad Moore), Guy (Kevin R. Free), Delia (Maya Jackson), and Angel (Crystal A. Dickinson) face a major disruption when a conservative Southerner falls for Angel. (Photo by Matt Pilsner)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter is presenting Blues for an Alabama Sky. Deftly written by Pearl Cleage, the 1995 drama depicts a tight-knit circle of friends living in a Harlem apartment building in 1930.

The title reflects an unlikely relationship between two of the protagonists. The bohemian neighbors’ lives are upended when a free-spirited blues singer and nightclub performer, Angel (portrayed by Crystal A. Dickinson) is pursued by Leland (Brandon St. Clair), a conservative, religious widower from Tuskegee — who only has been in Harlem for a few weeks.

In a program note, Dramaturg Faye M. Price notes that the time setting captures a period of “great transition for African Americans, from the creative exhilaration of the Harlem Renaissance to the despair of the Great Depression to the migration from the Jim Crow South to cities in the North.”

Cleage probes a confluence of social issues: homophobia, racism, sexism, and reproductive rights. The compelling script — by turns funny and poignant — accomplishes this by letting events unfold as the characters, with vastly divergent worldviews and priorities, interact and collide.

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May 10, 2023

By Nancy Plum

The most recognized orchestral ensemble on Princeton University’s campus might be the University Orchestra, but Princeton University Sinfonia has had just as much impact providing students and audiences with opportunities to hear both symphonic masterpieces and lesser-known works. Conducted by Ruth Ochs, Princeton Sinfonia performed its final concert of the season last Friday night at Richardson Auditorium, presenting a world premiere amid musical reflections of Irish culture and a nod to the Cinco de Mayo holiday.

The world premiere was of a piece by University sophomore Toussaint Santicola Jones. Inspired by the Leonora Carrington painting Red Horses of the Sidhe in the Princeton University Art Museum, Jones created a two-movement work musically depicting Carrington’s landscape and incorporating ancient Irish mythology. The resulting Naked, Upon the Road to Tara was an appealing orchestral work making full use of the large Sinfonia ensemble. more

May 3, 2023

By Nancy Plum

The Emerson String Quartet has been a frequent performer on the Princeton University Concerts series over the past decades. In this final season in the Emerson’s storied history, the Quartet returned to Richardson Auditorium last week for a program of Shostakovich and Mendelssohn, as well as a world premiere. However, the Emerson did not return alone; joining them in the second half of the program was the young and vibrant Calidore String Quartet, whose 10 years of performing has propelled the ensemble to the forefront of the performance arena. Although Thursday night’s concert belonged mostly to the Emerson Quartet, the addition of the Calidore players enabled a performance of a hidden gem of Mendelssohn chamber music.

For her 2002 string quartet, composer and Princeton native Sarah Kirkland Snider drew inspiration from the recordings of the Emerson String Quartet, and she has been well acquainted with their sound for quite some time. Drink the Wild Ayre, which received its world premiere by the Emerson Quartet in Thursday night’s concert, was also inspired by the Ralph Waldo Emerson’s descriptions of natural beauty, and one line of poetry in particular. From its opening measures played by Emerson first violinist Eugene Drucker, Snider’s work was an appealing piece with driving rhythms propelling thematic material forward. Violinists Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton, and cellist Paul Watkins were often playing in similar registers, creating an unusually well-blended instrumental palette. Drucker and Setzer frequently paralleled each other in melodic material, while Watkins provided a rich cello line, especially in the upper register of the instrument. more

“BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY”: McCarter Theatre Center will present “Blues for an Alabama Sky.” Written by Pearl Cleage, and directed by Associate Artistic Director Nicole A. Watson (above), the play will run May 6-28 at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. (Photo courtesy of McCarter Theatre)

By Donald H. Sanborn III

McCarter will present Blues for an Alabama Sky. Written by Pearl Cleage, the 1995 drama depicts a circle of friends living in a Depression-era apartment building amid the Harlem Renaissance. Performances start May 6.

New roommates — Angel, a recently fired blues singer; and Guy, a promising costume designer with Paris in his sights — live across the hall from Delia, a social worker “who sparks a relationship with the hardworking doctor Sam,” states McCarter’s website, summarizing the plot. “Their lives are upturned when Southern newcomer Leland arrives and falls hard for Angel, who is torn between a stable life in New York City and an exhilarating overseas adventure with Guy. Angel chooses her path, but the decision leads to devastating consequences that shift the trajectory of everyone’s futures and long-held dreams.” more

April 26, 2023

By Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra fused Mozart, Bruckner and the 21st century in a series of concerts this past weekend, including the premiere of a new work by Princeton University composer Steven Mackey. Led by Music Director Xian Zhang, the Orchestra combined Mackey’s large-scale symphonic work with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s spirited Symphony No. 25 and Anton Bruckner’s devout Te Deum. Joining the Orchestra in Friday night’s performance at Richardson Auditorium were a number of exceptional vocal soloists and the Princeton University Glee Club. more

April 5, 2023

By Nancy Plum

The music of 18th-century Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi is frequently heard on recordings, radio, and in films, but less often performed live, and Vivaldi’s more than 50 operas in particular are virtually unknown. Overshadowed in modern Baroque opera performance by works of George Frideric Handel and others, Vivaldi’s operas contain the same audience appeal and technical demands of other popular Baroque composers but have been neglected in the repertory. The early-music Jupiter Ensemble, a collective of exceptional musicians whose concerts highlight virtuoso performance, brought Vivaldi’s lively and animated music to Richardson Auditorium last Thursday night, presented by Princeton University Concerts. The seven-member ensemble performed an all-Vivaldi program, with multi-movement instrumental concerti interspersed with operatic arias. With four concerti and six operas represented, the musicians of Jupiter Ensemble showed the nearly full house at Richardson just how exciting and entertaining the early 1700s could be.

Jupiter Ensemble Artistic Director Thomas Dunford has an international reputation as a virtuoso lute player, and this instrument figured significantly in Thursday night’s program. The Ensemble presented two lute concerti, and Dunford played continuously throughout the concert as part of a continuo accompaniment, joined by cellist Bruno Philippe, double bassist Douglas Balliett, and Elliot Figg playing both organ and harpsichord. Elegant string playing was provided by violinists Louise Ayrton and Augusta McKay Lodge, as well as violist Manami Mizumoto. Vivaldi’s opera arias were sensitively and expressively sung by French-Italian mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre, who has also performed some of the most demanding coloratura opera roles in the repertoire worldwide. more